Global speculation spiked further Saturday over the health condition and whereabouts of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un after his lack of public appearances touched off a fake social media hashtag—an all-caps #KIMJONGUNDEAD—that proceeded to go viral in the United States despite no evidence that this is the case.
Kim, the 36-year-old leader of the isolated nation, has not been seen publicly in over two weeks. Amid reports that he was facing a health crisis following a recent surgery and failing to appear for a high-profile celebration for the nation's armed services on Saturday only increased international curiosity. However, reporters and experts have urged caution and denounced those peddling in dangerous rumors and unverified information.
One of the best-informed journalists on North Korea repeats that, as of Saturday, it’s all rumors and unverified reports. NOBODY KNOWS. But that hasn’t stopped American Twitter from exulting in its favorite Kim death cult. https://t.co/DpHfMPrxwL
— There are no kings inside the Gates of Eden. (@TimothyS) April 25, 2020
Read the full thread posted by Chad O'Carroll, CEO of the Korea Risk Group—which produces both NK Pro and NK News, two outlets focused on North Korea—here. While a pair of competing rumors offer different scenarios for Kim's situation, O'Carroll warns that, "for now there are too many varying indicators" to know for sure, or report accurately, on the current situation.
With "not enough details line up one way or the other," he continued, "we won't know which of these two rumors are credible until state media reveals something. Plus, it still remains possible both are wrong."
According to Yonhap News Agency, based in Seoul, late Friday:
North Korean media outlets have stayed mum on leader Kim Jong-un's whereabouts without putting out any reports on his public activity amid persisting speculation over his health.
Speculation about Kim's health problems spiked after CNN reported earlier this week, citing a US official, that Washington is looking into intelligence that Kim is in "grave danger" after a surgery.
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North Korea's state media have recently put out reports on Kim sending diplomatic letters and conveying gifts to honored citizens but stopped short of providing reports or photos featuring his public activity.
Kim was last seen in public on April 11 and on Saturday Yonhap reported that Kim remained "out of the public sight Saturday, as the reclusive nation's tightly controlled media focused their coverage on the founding anniversary of its armed forces."
In an exclusive, Reuters reported Friday evening that the Chinese government has dispatched a team of doctors to check on Kim's health:
A delegation led by a senior member of the Chinese Communist party’s international liaison department left Beijing for North Korea on Thursday, two of the people told Reuters.
The department is the main Chinese body dealing with neighbouring North Korea. The sources declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter.
The liaison department could not be reached for comment late on Friday. China's foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment late on Friday.
According to one anonymous South Korean official who spoke to Reuters, their intelligence is that Kim is alive and the he would likely appear in public soon to demonstrate that. A U.S. official familiar with American intelligence on the matter indicated the same, indicating to Reuters that "Kim was known to have health problems but they had no reason to conclude he was seriously ill or unable eventually to reappear in public."